How to start a corporate website development project — collect the right requirements the right way
The quality of the initial requirements and depth of the analytical information available at the beginning of a website development project are essential to the website’s success. Following the “garbage in, garbage out” principle, any design effort depends heavily on the quality of the initial requirements.
Knowing what to ask and having someone to answer any questions that arise during the initial phase allows a design team to get the best insights, which is fundamental to coming up with great solutions. Here is a short overview of the framework we used to gather the right materials for website design and development projects.
Define project stakeholders
These are the people in the client’s organisation who would benefit from the new websites the most, and who may add crucial insight into the website’s goals and requirements. Usually, these people are executive-level managers, sales and marketing directors, sales representatives, product or business development directors, client and support managers, etc.
It’s important to include representatives from all levels of the organisation because the higher a manager is in the corporate hierarchy, the more strategic and forward-thinking their vision for the company’s development is likely to be. However, sales reps, client managers and other people ‘in the field’ know their current customers’ needs and complaints, and it’s essential to have them on board as well, in order to develop a website that is effective for both the present day and the future.
Gather insights and business requirements
Schedule a series of interviews with your project stakeholders, and interview them one-to-one if possible. In groups, some people may withhold their opinion because of internal politics within the organisation, or for personal reasons, which would significantly decrease the quality of the insights gained. Ask for permission to record the interviews on your phone for later analysis — this is essential for making the most of the interviews — but also take notes while you are talking. Plan for 30 to 60 minutes per interview.
Ask for permission to record the interviews on your phone for later analysis — this is essential for making the most of the interviews.
The scope of the interviews
A website is a communication tool between a company and its customers, within a competitive landscape. The better you understand all relevant factors, the better design requirements and solutions you will be able to achieve. Interview your project stakeholders about their understanding of:
The product or service
how they understand it and what is needed to provide good quality; what makes it stand out from the rest; what could be improved
customer segments; their needs and problems; how they communicate with the company
their strong and weak points
why they like to work for the company; what makes it special, website function and design requirements.
Website function and design requirements
Ask open and general questions
Asking open and general questions encourages the person to try to explain complex issues, and consequently they are likely to share many insights and opinions that they wouldn’t give you if you were to ask more technical questions. A few examples of open questions:
Why there’s a need for a new website?
This is a complex question that will allow you to gauge their understanding of the business context, company goals, communication issues, competition, any problems that require addressing, as well as more straightforward website functional requirements.
How do you use the current website in customer communications and how it could be improved?
To answer this question they will think about offline and online communication processes, project them onto the website, and come up with ideas for improvement — or identify pressure points - that you can take as functional requirements.
What you don’t want to happen as a result of this project?
Thinking about possible negative consequences will help your project stakeholder to come up with positive ones.
What projects have you participated in and particularly enjoyed — and why?
This will help you to understand why the person likes working at the company, what makes the company unique, what qualities can be viewed as corporate values, and where the company could still develop.
What makes the company / product better than the competition?
This will allow you to understand who its competitors are, their strong and weak points, as well as those of the company.
How do you see the company in a few years?
This will usually shed light on current problems and ideas for how to address them. This insight is useful for crafting the website’s visual style.
Lay down a brief: Analyse the information received and synthesise conclusions according to the categories mentioned in the interview scope above. You could also structure it in a more conversational manner:
Who are we and what do we do?
Industry, company and product/services description, actual nuts and bolts of what the company does, process descriptions and other «how's».
Who are we here for?
List the customer segments; their needs and problems; how the company / product satisfies their needs; what they do on the website; channels they used to arrive at the website; and special services or communication that exists for specific segments. For B2B websites it makes sense to describe customer roles that participate in the buying process within the customer organisation, as the process could be initiated by one role yet approved by another.
Why did we start this project?
What is the business context of the project; what changed in the company’s strategy or tactics that triggered the need to redo the website; what are the website’s general and functional goals.
Who are we competing with?
Provide here links to the competitors’ websites, with a short overview of their weak and strong points.
How should we be perceived?
The visual design conveys an emotional message, creating a certain mood in which the website visitor will interact with the information. The most effective way to define this message is to outline the company’s qualities that you derived from the interviews. If the company’s strong attributes are innovation, technology, a high level of organisation, and simultaneously personal service, an ability to offer custom solutions, the new design’s “tone of voice” should be innovative, cutting-edge, formal, yet showing the personal qualities of the staff, etc.
What should the website do?
Outline here the functional features that the website should have, generally and for each client segment — list the actions they can take on the website and how the website should process them. List issues with the current website that need to be fixed. Provide a possible website structure, if you have one, and list possible features per page.
Using other websites as benchmarks
It helps to use other websites as design benchmarks, but only if their design qualities are defined and well-articulated via proper analysis, and the websites are used as references for these qualities, rather than vague and abstract examples that could be understood in various ways.
Functional features from other websites could serve as “UI patterns”, service development and customer conversion ideas, which could be of benefit while crafting the website’s UX design. It always helps to learn from the good examples — especially when they match your product or service’s paradigm.
These steps may be performed by either an agency or within the client’s organisation, though an agency would probably be more appropriate, as it takes some skill to navigate the stakeholder interviews and derive the required insights from them. A good design agency would practice this form of qualitative research regularly, and would get the results faster.